Lang Lang – Memory

0 of 5 stars

Piano Sonata in C, K330
Piano Sonata No.3 in B minor, Op.58
Kinderszenen, Op.15
Liszt arr. Horowitz
Hungarian Rhapsody No.2 in C sharp minor

Lang Lang (piano)

Recorded in August 2005 in Friedrich-Ebert-Halle, Hamburg-Harburg, Germany

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: June 2006
CD No: DG 477 5976
[1 CD + 1 bonus CD]
Duration: 1 hour 29 minutes

The ‘memory’ entitlement is that the pieces played here were either first learnt by Lang Lang as a child (the Mozart and Chopin) or ones that he first heard as a youngster. Flick through the somewhat-‘designer’ booklet and one finds puff about “old memories, new perspectives”. Of course, Lang Lang is still a young man, a famous one, and he tends to be a straightforward interpreter of music, somewhat out of kilter with the publicity that surrounds him.

In this studio recital (Lang Lang’s first such for Deutsche Grammophon: he has previously been captured ‘live at Carnegie Hall’, 474 8202), the opening Mozart sonata is a considerable success. Lang Lang’s lightness of touch, his moderate tempos and his subtle palette of colour all contribute to a most likeable and enjoyable traversal. The Andante cantabile, quite measured, is from the heart and beautifully tender.

There follows an account of Chopin’s B minor Sonata that rather belies Lang Lang’s propensity for ‘normality’. The timing alone, 38 minutes, suggests a misprint. (Yes, 38.) But, no, that proves correct and the eyebrows then rise further when a 14-minute Largo is spied. (The average is 9.) The first movement, with exposition repeated, extends to 15 minutes, even more distended that Claudio Arrau’s weighty EMI recording (he too takes the repeat). But timings are neither here nor there. Does it work? Well, the spacious tempo for the first movement lacks both majesty and imposition. If the tempo is well-judged, the runs finely graded, and the finger-work lucid, then there lacks the feeling of being ‘grabbed’ by the music, and that the pianist is too respectful. That said, the lyrical second subject is floated ethereally but the return of the exposition seems undertaken simply because the composer requests it. The movement proceeds with much consideration but little incident.

Lang Lang then plays the scherzo with enviable poise and sparkle, the ‘trio’ quite compelling in its understatement. If the potentially controversial Largo doesn’t seem that slow, it also doesn’t quite add up. Lang Lang controls his chosen pace with conviction and concentration, and can dynamically pare his response to ear-catching effect; yet, when the movement seems to have run its course, it still has five minutes remaining, and these ‘extra’ measures seem something of a miscalculation in the overall scheme. It’s interesting, certainly, and with the finale Lang Lang brings some of the consequence, encumbrance and temperament that would also have benefited the first movement.

Kinderszenen is also time-taken (22 minutes overall). Played without artifice, the opening section is attractive in its suggestions of a lullaby. The 12 movements that follow are played with equal discretion if some unhelpful punctuation and Lang Lang’s response can be rather arch (with ‘Catch me if you can’, No.3, while living up to its billing, seeming to be more about virtuosity than something picturesque). The famous ‘Träumerei’ lacks the ingenuous flow that can make it so affecting.

Allowing that Lang Lang might have observed more repeats than he does in the Mozart, there was every reason for DG to assume that this programme would comfortably fit onto one CD. Thus the Liszt is on a 9-minute ‘bonus CD’. Heard in the arrangement by Vladimir Horowitz, for which “you have to sound as if you have three or four hands”, Lang Lang also reveals that he has based his performance on “Horowitz’s Carnegie Hall recital recording from 25 February 1953”. I do not possess Horowitz’s recording, and while imitation is said to be the sincerest form of flattery, and for all the glitter, dexterity and power that Lang Lang displays, there is also a certain lack of the ‘devilry’ that one imagines Horowitz brought to it, an ovation-cueing abandon – although the temperature certainly increases as Lang Lang reaches the final lap.

Whether the Liszt is incandescent or transcendental enough, or whether Lang Lang’s ‘study’ of Horowitz has hampered his approach, he certainly lays down the gauntlet in terms of his technique and musical range (the Mozart remaining the most completely successful item here). DG’s recording is superb in its immediacy and capability to complete a release that deserves to be taken notice of.

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